5th March, 2021
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of the fabled Douro
As you sail along the Douro River you’re cruising through a region which has an amazing history, and a rich cultural heritage where old traditions are still celebrated. Everywhere you look you can see what makes this region so special – the terraced vineyards which produce the famous wines, the simple villages that produce traditional handicrafts, the grand palaces that are a clue to the region’s prosperity and the elegant cities full of art and beauty.
The Douro is a land of tradition, where the rich culture is intricately linked to history, religion and agriculture. Simplicity and life lived in harmony with nature are celebrated in this region and you’ll find traditional handicrafts such as shoe, tin and basket making. Festivals and pilgrimages take place throughout the year, and you’ll even hear people speaking Mirandes, Portugal’s second language which has been spoken here for hundreds of years.
A long history
The roots of the Douro region are incredibly deep and established. Twenty thousand years ago, Palaeolithic man settled in this beautiful region and left rock paintings, and since then the Romans, Moors, Visigoths and the Suevi have followed. In the Early Middle Ages, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Order of the Cister built several monasteries, and boosted the region’s agriculture with the production of wine. In the 17th and 19th centuries, England was the main consumer of wine from this region.
Gastronomy is important in the Douro, and the emphasis is on local produce produced by the region’s farmers. You’ll find meat dishes such as roasted baby goat, wild boar stews and partridge skewers, served with sausages, rice and potatoes, as well as fried and marinated fish dishes. Most meals are served with bread, and olive oil is in most dishes. Desserts include delicious sponge and fruit cake, rice puddings and traditional pastries including pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), peixinhos de chila (pumpkin cakes) or biscoito da Teixeira (a cake made with brown sugar and lemon).
Delicious port and wine
The Douro is famous for its port wine and has attracted wine aficionados since the 18th century. Tasting the wines here is a great introduction to Portuguese viniculture and the Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world with grape and wine production dating back 2000 years. The soil here is ideal for the terraced vines which are UNESCO protected, and there’s a huge selection of local grape varieties for wine or port.
Unmissable cities full of art, history and culture
One of the best aspects of Douro cruises are the incredible cities you can explore. If you are looking for ancient sites, historic buildings, impressive palaces, great food and wine and fantastic art you won’t be disappointed.
Charming and opulent, Oporto has a different atmosphere to Lisbon. Here you’ll find the pace a little slower with a charming UNESCO-protected old town built on the hills overlooking the Douro River. This is the city that gave us port wine, and you can explore the local port wine cellars which are mainly located at Vila Nova de Gaia. Explore the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, and see the art in the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis.
The oldest city in western Europe, Lisbon is a jewel of a city which boasts a wealth of ancient and historic sites and monuments, wide boulevards, a great river-front square, cobble alleyways and quirky café and bars. It is instantly recognisable by its pastel-painted buildings and red roofs, and there are so many great places to explore such as the 16th-century Bairro Alto District with its sloping streets, and Alfama, the fairy-tale palaces of Sintra and the hilltop Moorish castle of Säo Jorge. Spending a few days exploring this fascinating city before a Douro river cruise is highly recommended.
Cruise the Douro and you can join an included excursion across the border to the city of Salamanca in Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its beautiful old university buildings of golden-coloured stone. Discover the magnificent Plaza Mayor, one of the finest town squares in Spain, and see the famous Catedral Vieja, which dates from the 12th century, now incorporated into the much larger 16th-century Catedral Nueva.
In the Norte Region of the Douro, the city of Lamego nestles amid the terraced wine-growing slopes of the Douro Valley. Baroque architecture, art and wine are three of things that the city is famed for, and its old centre is a mixture of tree-lined boulevards and maze of narrow lanes. Here you can see half-ruined monasteries, the elaborate Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, which is set atop nine steep terraces overlooking the town with an ornate staircase of almost 700 steps, and explore the Museo de Lamego which its modern art collection.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.
The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.
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